Erotic fiction is wonderfully awful

I must admit that I got a little annoyed during the whole 50 Shades of Grey fad. I’d love to say I was above being jealous of the attention its author garnered in such a short amount of time, but it’s difficult when you read any of it and realise how poorly written it is, how awful the characters are… and yet that made no difference, it snowballed and became the fastest selling paperback book of all time. The author even ended up on a list of 100 most influential people.

AND she’s worth over $80 million.

50 Shades of X, popularising spousal abuse since 2012

50 Shades of X, popularising spousal abuse since 2012

However, if there’s one positive that can be drawn from the smash success of the books, it’s that it gave a huge boost to the number of erotic novels being sold on platforms like Amazon, which allowed me to self-publish my book, The Medicine. Not because these books are good mind you, but because they’re wonderfully terrible.

Now I wouldn’t presume to suggest that my book is the greatest ever written, far from it. It’s not of the calibre of my writing now and it’s got errors in it – a fair few – that I should have caught in my proofing, but one thing I will say for it, is that I put a lot of effort into it. I spent four years writing and editing it, I had friends edit it for me, I paid people to make the cover art, I paid people to format the interior and I paid Amazon to make it look pretty.

All in all, I invested eight times what I made on the book. That’s bad business if you’re trying to run a company, but I look on it as a representation of myself. These blog entries and the odd news piece might have the cobwebs of a Monday on them, but if I’m going to write and release a book for the world to see, I’m going to make it the best I can with my resources and talent I have at the time.

That’s clearly not what most erotic fiction writers do.

Take the case of H J Bellus, a surprisingly popular author on Amazon’s self-published list, who has an inexplicable 1,600+ ratings on GoodReads and almost 5,000 Facebook likes. This girl is popular, but I’d love for someone to explain why.

She’s released four books so far and unless she wrote these years ago but has only recently been convinced to publish them, based on the publishing dates, she can only have spent a maximum, of a month writing and editing each. They were all published this year, with her first novel and the first part in The Way series, hitting Amazon’s digital shelves on the 4th February. The book’s scintilating sequel appeared on 9th March, followed by My Way book 3, on 24th April. Her most recent book, Iron Sinners (easily my favourite for reasons I’ll get to soon), was released on 19th May.

That’s four books in four months. This girl can write up a storm. Though that’s probably why each book barely breaks through 200 pages.

She’s taught me a lot about cover art as well. Firstly, get yourself a guy with good chest, arms and abdominal definition. He doesn’t have to be particularly good looking, he just needs to work out. Preferably he should have a tattoo, but if not, don’t worry you can photoshop it on later. Then, add a background that has no bearing on the book and doesn’t match the lighting on the character… and stick a giant title across the bottom half.

That way, you end up with this eye catching lineup of covers:

men

Jesus Miles, do some fucking situps already

Those first three books are named after the leading male by the way. Nice common names like Tripp and Cree. Poor Miles, he was far too normal.

While the first three covers are pretty typical of the genre, Iron Sinnners took things up a notch with a little more photoshop than usual. For some reason whoever made it for Miss Bellus decided to erase (with a feathered edge) the woman’s elbow, as well as the back of her right hand and the man’s chest. The tattoos have been horribly applied and don’t really fit the body, and I’m pretty sure the one on his arm has had large chunks rubbed out too.

What would some cover art be though, without a few quotes from the books themselves? Iron Sinners for example is lead by a man who’s named – I shit ye not – “Griff,” or “Grizz,” to his friends. He’s the kind of man that, “A job needs done…he does it.” That’s right, Griff does done do jobs. For people. Or his crew, I don’ t know.

He’s dangerous because his name and the synopsis says so, but one night lead female “Piper Jones,” crosses his path and he’s not worried about saying it how it is. For example: “Five long motherfucking years in the state pen have taught me one thing. Without the love of Piper Jones, I am not a biker, nor a man, just a fucking drunken hopeless shell of a person.”

Bellus smoothly introduces us to characters as the story unfolds, with such cleverly hidden exposition as: “Jesus fucking Christ Miranda, is it that hard to email the damn PowerPoint? I understand you may be happy living and working as a minimum wage secretary for the rest of your days, but I’m not.”

And just one sentence later, we’re back to letting us know what a badass Piper is, because she uses slang and swears a lot.

“Fuck, the girl doesn’t want to lose her partying money for Friday night. Little shit ass snots like her only work for one reason, party money. Like OMG for beer money and clothes.”

I don’t know about you, but when I’m having an internal monologue, I always use acronyms.

She also let’s us know how Piper got here, and that some people think odd things. “Some call it coincidence, others may refer to it as copying of cheating, I like to call it the game of winning.” I’m not even sure what that means.

Bellus’ skillset is not confined to one book of course, she traverses entire covers to continue on in others. In the earlier release titled Tripp, she begins with: “Holy fuck buckets! I went to bed with Cree’s cousin? This was bad… very, very bad. Tripp was a raging asshole and I gave up my lovely lady humps to him.”

Don’t worry though, our protagonist this time around didn’t get coerced into bed, she wanted it because just looking at this guy makes her “panties melt and [her] titties ache with want.”

Titties people. Titties.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be singling out Bellus here though, as I get the impression she’s a young girl – judging by her Good Reads bio’s propensity for triple exclamation points – and in all fairness, her literary career is doing far, far better than mine. And even more than that though, I based all of my criticism here on the opening few chapters of her novels, which is very unfair. If you’d like to see if she gets any better in the ensuing ones, I urge you to check out her books and buy them.

However, the problem with this sort of writing isn’t that it’s cheap, or rushed, or even that it cashes in on a trend, it’s that it oversaturates the genre. While I’m not in the target demo for this sort of writing, there are some of you I’m sure who are. The company behind Bellus’ promotion, Limitless Publishing, has a load of other writers on staff which – judging by their first chapters – are far more accomplished. A lot of it still the same sort of trope-filled, animal-changing, angsty teens love affair nonsense, but they’re at least written to a much higher standard and don’t feel the need to insert as many swear words as possible to sound dangerous.

The point is, don’t read the next 50 Shades of grey because it’s popular, or because it has a ripped dude on the cover. Unfortunately I can’t recommend that you look for one based on reviews, as apparently Iron Sinners is worthy of 4/5 stars after 45 customer reviews, but there are such better examples of this work out there. Do a bit of research, read a few sample chapters and hopefully you can find an erotic novel that will actually let your brain finish, instead of just flicking your nipples and asking if you’re done yet.